Landmark Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary
[by Martin Freckman]
The work of hundreds of Warlpiri speakers compiled over more than 60 years, the Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary: Warlpiri Yimi-Kirli Manu Jaru-kurlu has been released by Aboriginal Studies Press, the publishing arm of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
Warlpiri is spoken in and around the 'Warlpiri Triangle', which extends from Willowra to Nyirrpi and Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert area of the Northern Territory and in communities elsewhere. Around 3,000 people of all generations speak Warlpiri as their first, second or third language. Warlpiri is used as a language of instruction at Yuendumu and Nyirrpi schools.
A monumental single volume with over 1,400 pages, the Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary: Warlpiri Yimi-Kirli Manu Jaru-kurlu will keep Warlpiri language strong, supported and flourishing. The dictionary includes the English translations for Warlpiri words, instructive example sentences that include Warlpiri history and cultural practices, detailed information about flora and fauna, more than 500 illustrations, maps of Warlpiri Country, a guide to Warlpiri grammar and a guide to the complex vocabulary of family relationships.
The Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary has been guided by generous, patient, and insightful input from hundreds of Warlpiri speakers, starting from those recorded by the linguist Kenneth Hale (1934-2001) during field trips in 1959-60 and again in 1966-67.
Working with Hale, major contributions were made by Mickey Jupurrurla Connell and Sam Japangardi Johnson (Yuendumu), Paddy Jupurrurla Stuart (Lander Warlpiri) and Stephen Japangardi Simpson (Hanson Warlpiri). Hale's transcriptions of the Warlpiri speakers make up a large part of the language resources used for the elaboration of the dictionary entries.
Many of the Warlpiri definitions of word meanings and examples of usage were written by Warlpiri co-compilers Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan (1947–2009) and Marlurrku Paddy Patrick Jangala (c.1944–94).
Nungarrayi was a teacher, curriculum developer, researcher, and an award-winning painter who also taught generations of non-Indigenous people about Warlpiri language, culture and Country. The audio recordings, books, posters and other teaching aids that Nungarrayi produced informed the development of this dictionary.
Jangala, born and raised in the Tanami Desert area worked tirelessly in bilingual education helping design modern Warlpiri spelling, and wrote hundreds of the succinct word and expression definitions and examples included in the dictionary.
Mary Laughren, chief compiler of the dictionary, began learning and documenting Warlpiri in 1975 when she was posted to Yuendumu as a linguist to support the newly initiated bilingual school program, later extended to other Warlpiri community schools. Over the decades she worked closely with Warlpiri and non-Warlpiri co-compilers in the Lajamanu, Wirliyajarrayi, Yuendumu and Nyirrpi communities. She holds an honorary senior research fellowship at The University of Queensland.
Others that contributed to the dictionary include David Nash, whose research relates to Aboriginal language and land in Central Australia, and Jane Simpson, who works with Warumungu and Wakirti Warlpiri speakers on language maintenance and dictionary-making. Both have degrees in linguistics from the Australian National University and both were supervised by Kenneth Hale during their doctoral studies of the Warlpiri language with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Another contributor was Robert Hoogenraad (1940–2021), who moved to central Australia to work as a linguist and had a key role in the production of an earlier Warlpiri picture dictionary.
The CEO of AIATSIS, Craig Ritchie, said that support for language preservation and revitalisation was essential work for the Institute.
‘Language is central to strengthening the cultures, identities, and wellbeing of First Nations peoples,’ Mr Ritchie said. ‘As part of our contribution to advancing languages, AIATSIS funds the publication of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language dictionaries.
‘The Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary is an outstanding example of what can be achieved in terms of documenting a language and making available material to help it to thrive – today and into the future. Decades in compilation, the dictionary is an unmatched and comprehensive resource for use by Warlpiri speakers, language students, and those who value cultures and the history of those cultures.
‘As we head into the UN’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages from 2022 to 2032, the Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary will play a significant role in meeting the objectives of encouraging the preservation, revitalisation and promotion of Indigenous language.’
The official launch of the dictionary is anticipated with the community in Yuendumu in 2023.
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